There is a lot of anticipation in Kirby Dach's world there days.
There's the anticipation of taking part in his first Western Hockey League playoffs with his Saskatoon Blades starting March 22 and the anticipation of getting a call to try out for next year's world junior team.
Then there's the anticipation of being a potential top 5 pick in this June's NHL Entry Draft.
Anticipation is also a great word to describe Dach's game on the ice.
The smooth-skating centre always seems to be one step ahead of the opposition when it comes to reading the play on the ice.
Dach was ranked No. 2 among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's mid-season rankings, behind only the U.S.'s Jack Hughes.
"I always wanted to be a hockey player," said Dach, sitting in the Blades dressing room. "I'm pretty close to making that a reality."
No Blades player has been a Top 5 selection in the NHL entry draft since Curtis Leschyshyn was chosen No. 3 by the Quebec Nordiques way back in 1987. Before that it was 1984 when Wendel Clark was the No. 1 overall pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Combine Dach's 6-foot-4, 200 pound frame with his skill set, hockey IQ and compete level and you have every NHL team coming to watch him play.
Dach's passion for the game has been evident from an early age.
"My mom always said when I was little I'd run around the house with a hockey helmet on or with a spatula my hands pretending it was a hockey stick and just hitting anything I could see that looked like a ball or puck," he said.
Dach's his parents Dale and Hilary would put him in bobsled skates at Garner Lake north-east of Edmonton, or on the outdoor rink that Dale built in their backyard when they lived on an acreage outside of Fort Saskatchewan.
He also got to see his dad play. Dale Dach had played junior hockey, mostly in Fort Saskatchewan, but also a little bit with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL.
Later Dale started playing senior triple-A hockey, including a run to the Allan Cup.
"He was always at the rink around me and and we always watched on TV so it's just a passion that he grew up with," Dale said.
Kirby was playing hockey afound the house as soon as he could walk.
"When he was a little bit bigger and started dinging up the walls we made a little lane for him in the garage," Dale said.
As soon as Kirby started playing organized hockey, he was always put in a level above his own age and was always one of the top scorers in the league.
Despite growing up just outside of Edmonton, Kirby said his idol is Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby.
Kirby said he not only admires how skilled Crosby is, but also the fact he is able to elevate average players into NHL superstars when they play on his line.
"He just make everybody around him better," Dach said. "As I've grown and matured I've kind of seen that in his game and that's something that very few players can do and I think that's pretty special and unique on his part."
Drafted to the Blades
It didn't take long for Dach to catch the eyes of junior scouts.
When the WHL held its bantam draft in 2016, the Blades traded up to choose Dach with the No. 2 pick overall.
Back then the Blades hadn't made the playoffs in a few years and were spinning their wheels.
It didn't deter Dach.
"I was pretty excited," he said.
The next season, with the Blades again struggling, Dach was called up near the end of the season as a 15-year-old and played in 19 games.
Anytime you do those things and you put that package all together in a 6-foot-4, 200 pound frame, and at the centre position, that automatically pops out at you in terms of an NHL prospect. - Saskatoon Blades head coach Mitch Love
His first two games turned out to be in the familiar territory of Edmonton.
"The second game in Edmonton ended up being Fort Saskatchewan Minor Hockey Night at the Oil Kings game. So I had lots of fans there and had lots of teams and little kids cheering me on," Dach said.
"It's something I won't forget for sure."
It also gave Dach an idea of what he needed to do to make the team as as 16-year-old.
"I already had dipped my toes in the water at 15 and I was ready to jump in at 16," he said.
He started slow, as is to be expected when you are 16 playing against 20-year-olds, but by the end of the year Dach had a presence on the ice.
He was also starting to grow into a physical presence.
The complete package
When you watch Dach play, he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
It's not a coincidence.
"I think I kind of can read and develop plays a little bit quicker than everybody else," Dach said. "It's almost like I'm playing chess and I'm three or four moves ahead of everybody and kind of see where the guys are going."
First year Blades head coach Mitch Love said Dach has an attention to detail and a compete level that raises his game to another level.
"He's very driven and passionate about wanting to get better each and every day," Love said.
"He's competitive, which is not always in a kid's DNA. Anytime you do those things and you put that package all together in a 6-foot-4, 200 pound frame, and at the centre position, that automatically pops out at you in terms of an NHL prospect."
Love said Dach's commitment to play hard at both ends of the rink is impressive.
"I think it's potentially separated himself from other guys that are in his draft class," he said.
"I think that's going to give him the best chance to play a a young age in the National Hockey League because his talents are going to show as he produces and gets older and matures at the National Hockey League level."
Known as a pass-first player, Dach said he has worked on taking more shots and going hard to the net more often.
The numbers bear that out.
Dach scored six goals and four assists in 19 games in his first season with the Blades.
In the 2017-18 Dach potted seven goals, 39 assists for 46 points in 52 games.
This year Dach has shot more and been rewarded with 25 goals, 46 assists and 71 points as of March 14.
Now Dach gets to display his talents in the playoffs for the first time as a Blade.
The team has had a stellar season, finishing second in the WHL East Division behind the P.A. Raiders.
"It's been a long five six years for (the Blades) and obviously it's going to be frustrating, especially from a fan base point, to see your team go out there and lose every night," Dach said.
"But the time is now and we have the team to do it and hopefully we keep pushing forward and have a good playoff run."
The Blades begin the postseason Friday at home against the Moose Jaw Warriors.
It will be the team's first playoff game since 2012.
"To have that inner Saskatchewan rivalry it brings out the best in both teams and the blood starts boiling a little bit and you're playing a little bit tougher and meaner," he said.
Team Canada invite?
Dach will find out early this summer if he's on the radar for a spot on Team Canada's world junior team if he's selected World Junior Showcase.
"Obviously this year I was kind of hoping for an invite," he said. "But when I didn't get one I understood why. You know you got to tip your hat to the older guys that have NHL experience, that are drafted and are good players in the leagues across Canada."
NHL Entry Draft
Few 18-year-olds can make the jump straight into the NHL after they are drafted.
If Dach returns to the Blades he'll likely have the consolation of getting the chance to play with his younger brother Colton, who the Blades drafted this past year with their first pick (their sister Callie plays AA boys hockey back home).
The brothers have only ever played on the same team for a couple of games. One of they was in pre-season last September with the Blades.
"It was pretty exciting even having him here at camp this year," Dach said. "It was an awesome experience."
Dach said he hasn't looked at the draft order, and tries not to think about it too much.
"At the end of the day it's the teams who are picking and it's their opinion that matters. If they want you they want you. I'll be happy to go to any team," he said.
"I've worked so hard to chase this dream down and hopefully it becomes a reality in June."